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How Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter is trying to close racial wealth gap

Dr. Bernice King is launching a financial startup.
Credit: AP Photo/Robert Ray, File

ATLANTA — A crucial part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to improve social and economic conditions for African-Americans in the civil rights movement was housing. 

Half a century after his assassination, his vision has not been fully realized. His daughter, activist and Atlanta native Bernice King, is continuing his work through a new digital banking and payment processing company called Ready Life, which will launch on Labor Day, according to reporting from 11Alive's news partner The Atlanta Business Chronicle.

King is the top advisor for the San Francisco-headquartered startup, founded by former White House aide Ashley Bell. The startup aims to qualify disadvantaged people for mortgages and grow Black-owned small businesses. 

“A lot of my father's work was focused on creating a pathway for Blacks in terms of job creation,” King said. “If you fast forward, it really was about affordable housing, because he wanted to challenge our country to open pathways economically for the Black community, because one of the major avenues to create wealth is homeownership.”

Black Americans have a homeownership rate of 46.4%, compared to 75.8% of white families, according to The Brookings Institute. Homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods are valued $48,000 less than predominantly white ones.

Atlanta is not an exception. The median household income for a White family in the city is $83,722 compared to $28,105 for a Black family, according to the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative. Atlanta is also the No. 1 city for income inequality, according to the organization.

Ready Life helps people qualify for a mortgage based on their on-time rental payment history rather than using credit scores or W2 verification. Once generational wealth is built through homeownership, Bell hopes that will spur more entrepreneurship in the Black community.

The company has financial support from Jacobs Asset Management Special Opportunity Ventures. Access to credit through the company can be cheaper than going through traditional banks because it isn't subject to federal interest rate hikes, Bell said.

Prominent Atlanta business figures will serve as advisors to the company including Cortez Bryant, former manager of Lil Wayne and co-CEO of the Blueprint Group record label, and Adam Aspes, general partner at Jacobs Asset Management, LLC.

Atlanta is both a hub for financial technology and the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Other local business and political leaders are using innovations in the financial and banking sectors to build wealth in minority communities.

Now Corp., a financial technology co-founded by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, allows small businesses receive immediate payments while their clients choose to pay their invoices. Rapper and activist Michael "Killer Mike" Render, Ambassador Andrew Young and TV executive Ryan Glover started Greenwood, a digital banking platform for the Black and Latino communities.

Read how the startup also plans to incorporate cryptocurrency here.


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